NASA engineers have fixed a “data bug” on the space agency’s Voyager 1 spacecraft. Earlier this year, the Voyager 1 Expression and Attitude Control System (AACS) that keeps the space probe’s antenna pointed toward Earth began sending incoherent information about its activities and health to mission controllers. The spacecraft has been in operation for more than 45 years.
“We are happy to have telemetry back. We will read a full memory of AACS and look at everything it was doing. This will help us try to diagnose the problem that caused the telemetry problem in the first place,” said Susan Dodd, Voyager Project Manager, in a press release. : “So we are cautiously optimistic, but we still have more investigations to do.”
A problem occurred with AACS even when the rest of the probe appeared to be intact, and it was still collecting and returning scientific data. NASA teams discovered that the probe was sending distorted information as it began sending telemetry data through an on-board computer that had been out of action for years. This defunct computer was spoiling the information.
According to NASA, Dodd has experimented with a low-risk solution in which the team will order AACS to resume sending data to the correct computer. Although the team doesn’t know why AACS started routing telemetry data, it’s possible that the system received an erroneous command generated by another onboard computer. But if true, it could mean that there is a problem with another part of the spacecraft. The team continues to research this underlying issue but believes it does not pose a threat to Voyager 1’s long-term health.
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have been exploring our solar system for 45 years. Both probes are now located in interstellar space, the region outside the heliosphere, or the bubble of energetic particles and magnetic fields from the Sun.
The origin of the Voyager mission can be traced back to the 1960s when NASA mission designers noticed that the next alignment of the outer planets would appear in the 1970s. This is an extremely rare event that occurs approximately once every 175 years. Fortunately, at the time, technology was developed enough to take advantage of this alignment to fly spacecraft by Jupiter, Saturn, and other exoplanets.
Voyager 2 was the first, launched on August 20, 1977, followed by Voyager 1, which was launched on September 5 of the same year. But since then, Voyager 1 has been outperformed by Voyager 2. When both craft began their journey in interstellar space, Voyager 1 became the farthest man-made object in space, and still is to this day.